Editorial Comment

Harpers TFW Flip Flop

    It has been an amazing week in the governance of North America. Weeks like this don't happen every day, you know. Not one, but two world leaders; our own Stephen Harper, and that other fellow, south of the border; Obama, I think his name is, have admitted they were wrong. Being men, heaven knows being wrong is a hard thing for them to admit. Being national figures makes it even harder, so the fact they both made full 360 degree reversals in previously held positions in the same week is, frankly, amazing.
    Mr. Obama, for his part, has come out with a list of restrictions he wants to place on the information gathering abilities of the National Security Agency. Ever since the Edward Snowden revelations, Mr. Obama has been issuing assurances that the agency’s work is important and non-invasive and must not be curtailed. Now, suddenly, after some hallelujah moment he has yet to share, he has vowed to limit the agency’s reach and stop spying on his allies. It must be terribly vindicating for Mr. Snowden.
    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Harper, apparently, has come to the realization that someone can't be wrong all the time and is suddenly agreeing with his rival, Thomas Mulcair, (Tom to his friends) that the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program is being abused by profit-motivated, unscrupulous businessmen and needs to be overhauled. According to Harper very recently, and Mulcair since the Cretaceous Period, some employers, have been using the program to increase their bottom line by paying lower wages than they should be. I know it is mind boggling to consider a business owner would manipulate the rules for personal gain, but apparently it is happening. Our Prime Minister said so, therefore it must be true.
    It is hard to say why Mr. Harper has finally came to the same conclusion the Opposition Leader had, but it’s unlikely it was that Mulcair’s railing on it, since he has been at the helm of the good ship NDP. 
    And rail he should. The TFW program has been rife with abuse in our province, at least according to a comprehensive evaluation entitled descriptively, From Last Resort To First Choice. The dunning report which the Alberta Federation of Labour issued last June, exposed the TFW program as an instrument by business to depress wages and short-change both home-grown and foreign workers. 
    The report demonstrated yet one more time that governments tend to support management over workers and corporations over citizens. For Harper to admit there actually was a problem with the program, must mean that the rot is even worse than either the NDP leader or the AFL imagine. Either that or some Conservative focus group finally twigged on it as a vulnerability in Mr. Harper's electability. The PM’s sudden conversion to an anti-TFW activist must have been fairly recent because up until the third quarter of 2013 the number of participants in the TFW program had been growing exponentially. It has flooded the service sector market so much, it is rare to be served by a… what shall we call them, Permanent Domestic Worker, (PDW) at many fast-food outlets and convenience stores.
    This shouldn't be a surprise. As per AFL stats, in 2013, when the province grew 81,000 jobs, almost 22,000 of those positions were filled by TFWs. This isn't so bad considering we, in Alberta, do have an unemployment rate of 4.8% currently. Economists, though they rarely agree, do concur that any unemployment rate under 5% should be considered full employment as those 5% that remain are largely of the unemployable variety.
    One might even argue Alberta has a reasonable percentage of TWF labour to help with these service industry jobs. If we are under 5%, we may actually need all 22000 of them, despite the opinions of the left-leaning AFL. No one wants to return to the days when they were delaying opening businesses due to a shortage of available staff and many a fast food operation was agonizingly slow because they were chronically understaffed.
    However, how do you explain a place like Ontario, where they have an unemployment rate of an unenviable 7.9% and yet have over 100,000 TFWs in the province? Quebec, on the other hand, has only 39,000; a little less per capita than Alberta. Alberta's population is four million, or half that of Quebec's and a third of Ontario's 12 million. When you factor in those provinces’ unemployment rates, their levels do appear inappropriate. It is obvious companies are bringing in foreign labour rather than hiring local workers to take advantage of the wage differential between the two that was supposed to be addressed, the last Harper realized, the TFW system may have a bad smell to it.
    It is unlikely Harper is hoping that by revamping the system and weaning business off their source of cheaper labour, wages will increase for entry level PDW’s as a free market should dictate. They don’t vote CPC. In theory, Conservatives love the “invisible hand of the free market” setting prices fairly based on supply and demand, but in practice, they often are guilty of tweaking the playing field to help certain industries like any other party.  No party can resist toying with that invisible hand.
    That’s all in the past now, apparently. The Harperator is going to tackle these companies abusing the TFW system. Mr. Harper will demonstrate to us all how far in front of this issue he has become. In fact, he is so far in front of it now, he might just be able to spot Thomas Mulcair’s ample butt.

Yes, it’s been quite a week.

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